(Warning… this is long. And you will probably cry. More than once.)
On the Friday before we left for our vacation, we had an appointment for Torre to get bloodwork done and get the results back from her biopsy. For the last year, she had been experiencing many of the symptoms associated with Pemphigus (an autoimmune skin disease), but our first biopsy back in early 2011 came back unconclusive. We moved, her symptoms came and went, and at times you couldn’t tell at all that she even had a skin disease.
In May, she had a major breakout, and we found an amazing small animal vet to take her to. It turns out he used to work at the vet office we loved down in Lubbock, and we were very comfortable with him handling her situation. We got new medicines, adjusted her diet, kept her in the air conditioned house and didn’t travel with her (travel causes stress, stress causes breakouts). As time went by, her symptoms got worse instead of better, which they usually did. We took her in for a biopsy and blood work and found out that her white blood cell counts (WBCs) were out of this world. And by out of this world, I mean 6-17 is a normal count, 33 is deadly and her counts were fluctuating between 43 and 45.
We waited for the biopsy results, which again, came back unconclusive for Pemphigus and negative for sarcoptic mange. The vet and I agreed that even with two unconclusive biopsies, her symptoms were in line with Pemphigus and that is how we wanted to move forward treating it. We went back two weeks later, did more bloodwork, and increased her medicines. Her WBCs had come down to around 36 and we saw some hope. Two weeks later, putting us at the Friday before vacation, we went in for another round of blood work and to make sure she was well enough to travel to my parents house so we could go on vacation.
We waited in the reception area for about half an hour after the initial bloodwork. Ryan and I had talked on the drive to the vet about doing what is best for her, and not prolonging what we saw as “the inevitable.” This was his first time to come with me, so I wanted him to be prepared for the best and worst possible outcomes. I still had some hope because her WBCs seem to be coming down during the last check-up and we were oping for more good news.
Her WBC count was 46 that day. She had lost almost all the hair on her back and sides, her shins were bleeding, the pads of her paws were crusting and white, and she had been in a cone for almost 2 months.
*Insert crying as I try to type the rest of this.*
The vet told us he honestly didn’t know what to do. He had never seen a case of pemphigus this bad and had never seen a dog with such high WBCs for so long. He wasn’t sure Torre would make the car ride to my parents house 6 hours away, and if she did, if she would make it through a week without us. We contemplated cancelling vacation. We cried. I screamed. Torre watched us argue back and forth about what to do. The vet left us alone to make a decision. In the end, we made the hardest decision I hope I ever have to make.
I laid on the floor with Torre and hugged her and kissed her and told her I loved her. Ryan did the same. The vet came back in and confirmed that we were making the right decision for her. And for us. She had suffered enough. And so had we. I had fought hard for her for the last year and spent every last penny I could doing tests and trying new medicines, and I think ultimately the hardest part was giving up that fight for her life.
Our vet reassured us that we had done more for her than most owners would have, and that there really was nothing left to do. We didn’t want her to suffer, so we said our goodbyes and she just laid on the floor and watched us leave. (Normally at the vet, she won’t leave my side. If I go to the bathroom, she’s right there beside me afraid to be alone. We took the fact that she didn’t chase us as we left as a sign that she was ready for us to make this decision and that she understood what we were doing.) The vet walked us out the back entrance where I screamed and cried and tried to go back in. He didn’t think I could handle being in there with her, and I think he was right. We got in the car and called our moms, then drove home without our beloved angel.
It’s been an adjustment. So much of my day as consumed with caring for Torre and making sure she was comfortable and walking her outside to go to the bathroom every hour. Bronx has searched the house for her over and over again and then lays down staring at the front door. And Ryan. My dear husband. Ryan is the one who took her in off the streets when she was six months old before we ever met. That place in his heart is so broken right now, and nothing will heal that but time.
It’s been five weeks today and I still think I need to take a dog into the backyard every hour. Bronx still waits for her to come running in the front door. And Ryan still wishes that two dogs greeted him after a long day of work instead of just one. We still have holes in our hearts and are trying to heal, but we know we made the right decision and that Torre was ready for us to let her go.
Some people may not understand how hard this was for us, and some people may say “It’s just a dog.” If you know Ryan or I personally, you would understand. Torre’s heart was bigger than any dog I’ve ever met and her love was so unconditional. She had been through a lot, living on the street and being abused before Ryan found her, then getting attacked twice when we took her out for walks. She was only seven-years-old and one of the hardest things to come to grips with is never knowing what was wrong with her. The last two weeks of her life, she didn’t sleep, barely ate, barked all night and had to stay confined to certain parts of the house. We couldn’t pet her without causing more hair to fall off or touching her in a spot that ached. We don’t expect everyone to understand how hard this was for us, but sharing this was just something my heart needed to do.
We don’t have any children and I’m pretty sure that we will one day be considered “that crazy dog couple.” I know we will experience loss in our lives from time to time, but having to make that decision five Fridays ago was the hardest thing we have ever had to do.